Thursday, April 08, 2010


Are there certain smells that immediately jolt a memory in your brain?  Are you immediately transported back into time by the mere sniff of a certain smell?  Do you become a child at the first whiff of a special aroma?  There are so many memories that jump right into the forefront of my brain the minute I am met with particular smells.  For instance:

Cinnamon and sugar:  I am in my great grandmother's small, tidy home, sitting by the dining room table with my siblings, waiting for Grandma Martha to bring in the steaming bowls of rice and milk, on which we sprinkle sugar and cinnamon.  She had little money, and I'm sure feeding us five kids and our parents and grandparents could have been a huge burden on her.  But rice!  Pretty economical, even then.  And we loved it.  I have tried and tried, but I have not been able to recreate Grandma Martha's rice and milk, sweetened with sugar and cinnamon.

Coffee cake:  My paternal grandmother made the most incredible coffee cake you have ever tasted.  When we would visit her and grandpa in their huge house on a corner lot in a small town in Western Iowa, we were greeted every morning by the smell of her special coffee cake.  It was kind of a yeast cake, mixed the night before and set out to rise in the morning before being popped into the oven of her big white stove in the kitchen. What a heavenly smell it was!

Cedar:  My paternal grandpa was a woodworker by hobby.  His saws and other woodworking tools were housed in the huge barn that doubled as a garage and a workshop.  He made shelves, shadow boxes, magazine racks, small boxes, clothes racks and cedar chests, all out of cedar.  I loved the smell of the fresh cut wood and the sawdust in his shop.

Molasses cookies: (yes, it's basically food smells that trigger memories for me!) are associated with my maternal grandmother, our Nonny.  She was an excellent cook and baker, and fortunately we do have many of her recipes.  In one of the houses they lived in, the biggest one, they had a small entry off to one side that wasn't used to come in or go out.  That little room was always filled with canisters, boxes, or jars of goodies.  Molasses cookies, sugar cookies, donuts, and other sweet goodies were always packed away in the cool of the little room, waiting for the grandkids to devour them.  And did we ever enjoy them!

Musty basement smells bring back two memories.  The musty smell that is mixed with a sweet smelling laundry powder is also associated with our Nonny.  As kids we often played in her basement, creating a huge mess among the musty boxes of stored clothes and household items.  Worn dresses or aprons became dress up clothes as we played house with our baby dolls.  But the best times were the times when we found the boxes holding the old curtains and drapes!  Oh, the wedding dresses and formals we created from the sheer, frilly Priscilla curtains!  A lacy panel made a beautiful veil, held in place with bobby pins and decorated with flowers found in Nonny's garden.  The ruffled tie backs became lovely belts tied around our waists, cinching in the curtains we had artfully draped over and around our shoulders, creating gowns that would be coveted by top designers!  All gowns came with a sightly musty smell from the basement, but we didn't care.

The second musty basement smell was the stale, closed in, musty smell of the basement of the church next to our childhood home in Northeastern Iowa.  Us kids often played in the graveyard next to the church, and after sweating in the hot afternoon sun while climbing on tombstones we sometimes fled to the cool of the church basement.  The cool, musty basement that was used maybe one time a month, on a Thursday afternoon when the Ladies Aid Society met.  Otherwise it was shut up, closed in, and dark, cool and musty.  Our dad, the pastor of this church, would have paddled our behinds if he had known how often we were in that church basement!

Lilacs:  The smell of lilacs will now make me sneeze and cough, will make my eyes water and my nose run, but it will always bring me back to the huge hedge of bushes that we had on the lawn of our childhood home.  We tunneled through the thick twisted stand of lilacs, and created the most highly perfumed playhouses you can imagine.  Hours were spent breathing in the intoxicating aroma, maybe leading to the sensitivity I now have.

Where do you go when you smell a particular aroma?   Are you once again a child?  Or don't smells do anything to you?  Just wondering.

1 comment:

Lena . . . said...

Fresh baked bread brings me back immediately to when I was a kid. Every Friday afternoon my mother would make bread so that it would be out of the oven and still warm when we got home from school. The best snack of the entire week was on Friday afternoons - a warm bun with nothing but butter. I would eat several. She had a large green enamel bowl that she used for mixing bread. Never measured anything, just dumped until the level was right in the bowl. Such great memories.